Let’s roll out a little hypothetical for you, Nebraska football fan. You’re at a beautiful oak desk. You sit in the highest of towers in Lincoln, Neb., when it comes to calling the Husker athletic shots.
There are a lot of unhappy people with the Big Red football team sitting at 3-6. Perhaps you’re one of them. Regardless, you have a major decision to make.
In front of you is a big red button. If you press it, the angry locals get their wish. First-year head coach Mike Riley is fired and athletic director Shawn Eichorst follows. If you don’t, everything stays as is.
If you’re tempted to immediately slam that button, I’m going to ask that you wait. If you’re going to press it anyway, you can wait a couple of minutes while I explain the consequences, right? You very well may not care...then again, you might.
Let’s say that you jump to the conclusion that the program needs to be cleansed. The Riley hire was a mistake and he’s attached at the hip to the guy who hired him, so naturally Eichorst must go as well. Button pressed.
What you’ve just done is told the entire coaching community that if you come to Nebraska, you’d better win immediately despite what’s left for you or you may be a dead man walking before season one ends. Do you know how many legitimate head coaches are going to want to be a part of that?
Think an offensive or defensive coordinator wants that kind of pressure? Maybe one or two would chance it, but not from a Power 5 conference.
Let’s look at the financial situation. As long as Bo Pelini’s in Youngstown, Ohio, he’s making $128,009 monthly through February 2019 by simply not coaching the Huskers. Nebraska will now also be on the hook for $170,000 payments every month (less taxes, of course) to Riley until 2020. That’s a fat stack of cash to have tied up in paying two guys to not be a part of your football program.
It doesn’t stop there. You’ve also shown recruits that they may not play for the coaches that recruit them if things go south immediately. That’s not going to go over well with prospects and their families. It will certainly help other programs negatively recruit against Nebraska, though.
Set aside that coaching hire. You’ve shown all prospective athletic directors that if their first choice doesn’t go well, guess what? They’re out, too. It’s going to be hard to sell the idea that there’s a margin for error at all.
I’m sure you can figure out all of the other people you’ll be affecting by this decision as well. The families that up and moved for maybe 365 days, bought new homes, changed their lives for what they figured would be at least two or three years.
Then there’s option two. Understand that there will always be yelling. Maybe not as loud as it is now, but there will always be yelling. When people compare Florida’s new head coach Jim McElwain to Riley, you can keep in mind that the former doesn’t have a walk-on as a part of his two-deep (all high-quality players) while Riley sports 10 on his.
Keyshawn Johnson’s bringing kids — very talented kids — to meet Riley on a regular basis. NFL wide receivers are coming to Lincoln to work with Keith Williams, the guy who coaches Riley’s wideouts. Nebraska currently has one of the best offensive line recruiting hauls in the nation and a quarterback in Patrick O’Brien who’s a stud and a half.
There are the folks that already sacrifice so much of their lives for the betterment of this football program. There’s the big picture and it’s unlikely that three wins will be part of it again.
Athletes that know the coaches, that buy into the system, love the fans and can excel have to show up and be coached first. That takes time and I don’t think enough people appreciate the idea or want to entertain it because it takes time. Recruits back Riley as do coaches that were around for the Wonder Years of 60-3. Clearly they did something right and see that same something in Riley.
So, I ask you: Are you going to hit that button or slide it to the side?